The Ethics and Policy Committee decided to post this case scenario given its importance and its usefulness to our members. The submitter of the case has agreed with this posting and the wording of the scenario.
An editor-in-chief wrote to the committee with the following scenario:
I am in the unfortunate position of having had one of our journal editors recently convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to imprisonment.
This author/editor has published over 60 articles in our journal over the years, some original scientific studies, others editorial and expert commentary. Additionally for the last few years the individual has been one of the authors that produce our monthly journal podcast for tens of thousands of subscribers (which continue to be downloaded several thousand times a year).
The editor/author performed the highest quality scientific and educational work, was considered a rising star of the first order, and never expressed opinions on anything but scientific and journal matters. The precipitating event is that the individual has now been to court, and convicted. The Journal was not involved in the court case, but we were aware of the accusations and the editor/author immediately voluntarily stepped down from all journal positions, but nothing had been done with the podcasts and articles. Thus, the person is no longer a journal editor (and the name has been removed from the masthead).
Our dilemma is that there are different schools of thought on whether we should remove some or all the person’s materials from our website, to prevent any interpretation that we endorsed the behavior. This could include scientific articles but would chiefly focus on editorials and commentaries, and in particular the dozens of podcasts the person produced.
Nothing written by this past editor/author and nothing in the podcasts for the journal are related to the serious crime.
We are looking for direction and policy guidance as to whether materials should be removed from public access and if so, what should be removed.
WAME Ethics and Policy Committee Comments
The Committee confirmed that the court did not ask or require the Journal to take any actions. Therefore this remains a journal matter.
The editor has been convicted of a serious crime, but one that does not bear directly on the integrity of the work product or otherwise overlap with the work product. Still, it is appropriate the individual is no longer an editor (for one reason, (s)he could not function in that role during imprisonment). It is fortunate the individual voluntarily resigned without the journal/publisher having to go through a process to have the editor removed.
As for this editor’s/author’s work, there are no apparent concerns about the editorial or scientific work that would usually lead to an inquiry or investigation (and the work is unrelated to the serious crime). Therefore, there is no justification for the journal to do anything with the written work produced by this individual.
As for being a podcast editor, it is likely the individual was an expert commentator and/or spokesperson for the journal or society (although the role differs across journals, and in some cases the authors themselves are interviewed or do the audio summary of the article). Podcasts should not be treated different from published work produced by this individual. That is, since there are no apparent concerns about the podcast work and the serious crime is unrelated to the work, the journal should take no action.
The Committee therefore recommended that nothing this editor/author wrote, edited or recorded should be removed.